Grants Running Out For Ansonia Schools

PHOTO: Jodie MozdzerAnsonia school officials are worried that with the loss of about $1.17 million in grants next year, the Board of Education budget is in big trouble.

“I’ve never been as frightened as this year,” Superintendent Carol Merlone told the Board of Education finance committee Wednesday.

The committee reviewed Merlone’s proposed budget for 2012-2013, and voted to pass it along to the full Board of Education. The school board will consider adopting the spending plan in January.

The proposal represents a $1.49 million, or 5.66 percent, increase over current spending.

The district is asking for $27.86 million from the city next year. The district currently receives $26.3 million.

About half of the increase — $719,000 — is requested to help replace dwindling grants, according to the budget presentation.

“I wish that people would understand the impact, the significance of what just a little money makes to us,” Merlone said Wednesday.

Grants Disappearing

Ansonia is facing the loss of several federal grants, and a large “Priority School District Grant” from Connecticut.

The grants paid for more than 10 teacher positions, guidance counselors, a district IT administrator, a “behavior interventionist” and other jobs.

The Priority School District grant was awarded to Ansonia because of low academic performance. As Ansonia’s test scores came up, the district was removed from the Priority School District list, Merlone said. And as a result, in 2012-2013, the grant will start to be phased out.

“The irony is that we are losing these funds because we have improved, and that the loss of these funds was in no way foreseeable,” Merlone wrote in her budget report to the board.

Over the next three years, Ansonia schools will receive $910,000 less from the Priority School District grant.

The district in 2012-2013 is also losing federal grants, such as the Education Jobs Fund and several grants it received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The loss in 2012-2013 adds up to $1.17 million.

Other Costs

At the same time, Ansonia is facing the same rising costs that other school districts face:

Salaries and benefits are rising by $947,455. Transportation expenses will increase by an estimated $30,625. And the district needs to hire a “board certified behavioral analyst” to help with children with autism, for about $50,000.

Ansonia schools are estimating cost savings in heat and energy accounts.

And the district negotiated 0 percent wage increases for most of the unions and all of the non-union employees, according to the budget presentation.

But the end result is about $772,064 in more expenses to keep about the same services as this year.

The full budget proposal is attached in the document below.

Article continues after document.

Ansonia School Budget Proposal

The Battle Begins

The Board of Education plans to start a public information campaign to get the word out about their situation and try to get support.

“I just hope people will actively solicit their aldermen and let them know how critical it is to approve this budget,” Board of Education member George Boath said.

Once the Board of Education approved a budget proposal, it goes before the Board of Aldermen.

The Board of Aldermen then proposes a full city budget — including an allocation for the Board of Education — and passes it along to the Board of Apportionment and Taxation.

The tax board then goes through each line item and tries to fine tune the spending plan.

In 2010, the Board of Aldermen passed along the entire Board of Education budget request, and let the tax board determine if cuts should be made.

But in 2011, the Board of Aldermen did the opposite — funding the schools at a level rate and leaving it up to the tax board to add back money they felt was necessary.

Both situations brought out members of the public.

In 2010, a citizen group called “Axe The Tax” formed to protest the proposed budget increases. In 2011, families and school staff turned out in droves to ask for more money for the schools.

Each time, the Board of Education ended up with an increase smaller than requested. In 2010, the board received a 1.95 percent increase. In 2011, it was a 1.15 percent increase.

Board of Education president John Lawlor said getting the word out about the district’s situation might help convince people that the increase is necessary.

“The community will say we’ve performed at a stellar level with minimal amount of funding for the last three years,” Lawlor said. “We can’t continue to do that.”


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